Women want to bridge the divide

23 August 2010

As its title suggested, there was plenty to mull over at the recent panel discussion, Women's Struggles: From the political to the personal, the global and local, a UCT precursor to Women's Day on 9 August. But one theme surfaced regularly - the gap between those championing the feminist agenda in academia, and those who work 'on the ground' in communities.

For the occasion, the organiser and moderator - Associate Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela of UCT's Department of Psychology - had assembled two tiers of panellists, representing two more-or-less distinct generations.

Representing the 'first-generation' were the 'elders', speakers deputy vice-chancellor Professor Jo Beall; Professor Jennifer Fish of the Department of Women's Studies at Old Dominion University in the US; former Member of Parliament and now leader of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge; and writer Dr Sindiwe Magona. As their counterparts, four younger speakers represented the 'second generation' - lecturer Rumbi Goredema of the Department of Sociology, students Mpumi Tshabalala and Samantha van Schalkwyk, and the guest speaker, community activist Eunice Oyugi.

A score of topics were raised - the nature of feminism in Africa, why women's stories have to be told (they become data, suggested one audience member), the gap between policies and reality, and how gender-based violence connects women across cultures and continents, among others.

But speaker after speaker, along with members of the audience, would circle back to one issue - the divide between academics and activists, and between academia and activism.

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